June 5, 2019 / 1:02 PM / 6 months ago

Germany planning to access voice assistant data to tackle crime

FILE PHOTO: The Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled virtual assistant, is seen at its product launch for Britain and Germany in London, Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTER/Peter Hobson

BERLIN (Reuters) - German authorities are working on guidelines to allow them to access data held by voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or smart fridges to help them fight crime, a spokesman for the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

Voice assistants, increasingly popular even in privacy-conscious Germany, carry out simple spoken commands given by their users, recording large amounts of information about their habits and behaviour in the process.

“To tackle crime effectively it is very important for federal and regional authorities to have access to the data captured by these devices,” the ministry spokesman told a regular government news conference, adding that a meeting of regional interior ministers would discuss concrete proposals next week.

The spread of devices that promise convenience to users but which effectively place networked microphones and cameras in intimate domestic settings has sparked widespread concerns around the world about the privacy implications.

In Germany, where memories of the surveillance by the Nazis and later by communist East Germany’s secret police, have decisively shaped social attitudes toward privacy, resistance to state encroachment on private life is very strong.

But a spokesman for the ministry with responsibility for consumer protection said it was the responsibility of users to decide how far they wanted to allow such devices into their homes.

“The data can be used for all kinds of purposes, including being seized by prosecution authorities,” he said. “This is something to be considered by everyone who uses voice assistants in their most private surroundings.”

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, writing by Thomas Escritt, editing by Alexandra Hudson

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